Stone Turtle FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review reviews

Stone Turtle

FNC reviews: Stone Turtle, Alma Viva, Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan, Promenades nocturnes, Soft

Our first batch of Nouveau Cinéma festival reviews include Portugal’s Oscar contender, a tour-de-force from Marie Brassard and films about the cycle of violence in Iran, queer tweens in Toronto and migrants in Malaysia.

The 51st edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16. Here are our reviews for Thursday and Friday.

Alma Viva 

Alma Viva Cristèle Alves Meira FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review reviews
Alma Viva (directed by Cristèle Alves Meira)

The whispers of the afterlife linger in Alma Viva, the feature film debut of franco-Portuguese filmmaker Cristèle Alves Meira. Recently selected as Portugal’s official selection for the International Feature category at the Oscars, the movie takes on the perspective of the young Salomé, who is visiting family in the remote mountains for the holidays. The old village is embroiled in superstition and witchcraft, and the tense maternal atmosphere is charged with sensuality and venom. 

Salomé finds herself both drawn to and repelled by her grandmother, a larger-than-life woman who many suspect is a witch. Even Salomé seems unsure of the powers the woman wields. The early part of the film has a carefree atmosphere centred on the loud and lustful women of the family. The quiet Salomé often finds herself stepping into the caretaker role and acts as a silent witness to their madness. When the grandmother dies unexpectedly, everything goes to shit as tempers flare and superstition deepens. 

Shot in various tones of brown, Alma Viva captures the earthiness of Salomé’s family with tenderness and insight. While the family has been transplanted mainly to the city, thrust back into the village of their past, they find themselves quickly drawn into the paranoia of the old world. The collapse of the fragile family unit as they prepare for the funeral has a particularly devasting impact on Salomé, who begins to fear she’s being haunted and compelled by the ghosts and witches of her ancestors. Though rooted in naturalism, the film captures the textures of magical realism and the intuitive power of belief in its approach to its subject matter. 

Alma Viva screens on Friday, Oct. 7, 6:30 p.m. (Quartier Latin, 350 Emery) and Saturday, Oct. 15, 3 p.m. (Quartier Latin). 

Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan

Le meurtre de l'eunuque Khan Abed Abest FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review reviews
Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan (directed by Abed Abest)

Told almost entirely wordlessly, Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan is a startling and ambitious experimental feature. An exploration of the cyclical nature of violence, the movie begins in the 1980s during the Iran/Iraq war in a large, sparsely decorated home. Two sisters live there, eclipsed by the tall ceilings and the majesty of an enormous red Persian carpet. However, their lives and safety are far from secure, and their father will soon be mourning them. 

The first half of Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan features some of the most startling imagery of any film in 2022. The motif of the colour red emerges through the carpet and the younger daughter’s dress, which eventually gives way to a cascading sea of blood that engulfs the house. Tones of blood periodically overwhelm the frame through a red spotlight that follows characters and a literal sea of blood that torrents through the country. 

Essentially abstract, the film relies on some foreknowledge from the audience to piece together what’s happening. Yet, the intended effect focuses on the cost of war and conflict, removed from the usual justifications that undercut the impact of human loss. As we move away from the story of the sisters, time and space begin to collapse, and history starts to repeat itself. The large home becomes the landscape of further tragedies, and even as the film’s point of view expands beyond its walls, it maintains a cyclical and brutal structure of violence. 

At best, the film has a thunderous emotional power, but it’s difficult not to be skeptical of the overall impact of the film. The musical score feels a bit overbearing, and the artifice of much of its construction wavers from incredibly effective to distracting. Overall, though, this is an extraordinarily innovative and ambitious film that challenges expectations by breaking away from the conventions of the traditional war narrative. 

Le meurtre de l’eunuque Khan screens on Thursday, Oct. 6, 6 p.m. (Cinéma Moderne, 5150 St-Laurent) and Tuesday, Oct. 11, 9 p.m. (Cinéma Moderne).

Promenades nocturnes

Promenades nocturnes Ryan McKenna FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review reviews
Promenades nocturnes (directed Ryan McKenna)

One of Quebec’s greatest working actors, Marie Brassard, stars in Ryan McKenna’s Promenades nocturnes, a world premiere at this year’s festival. Brassard stars as Ethel, an older woman who is losing her grasp on reality. Her adult daughter visits her regularly, ensuring her fridge is full and she’s in good health, but Ethel’s mental presence has become increasingly tenuous. Despite a runtime of just over an hour, the film is dense with ideas and emotions.

Unable to sleep, Ethel wanders through Montreal at night. With imagery that feels tinged with mysticism and gives in more frequently to the experimental camera and editing tricks, linear time feels increasingly strained. In her conversations with her daughter, Ethel begins to forget where she is or she goes on long non-sensical tangents. Those who’ve lived with family members who have Alzheimer’s and dementia will recognize many tell-tale signs of a loved one slipping away. 

McKenna’s filmmaking tries to bring us into the destabilizing mind of a person who feels their world slowly collapsing. Often beautiful and increasingly fragmented, the movie is both horrific and reassuring. Ethel’s ability to interact with the world becomes more strained. She experiences new obstacles and horrors she has to face as she’s forced to relive old losses and face off against new and confusing developments. Yet, there’s also a gentleness at work as McKenna finds moments of peace and beauty within Ethel’s deteriorating mind. Promenades Nocturnes will undoubtedly be a complicated watch for some viewers, but it’s a compassionate perspective on a subject that necessitates grace, patience and understanding.

Promenades nocturnes screens Friday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m. (Quartier Latin) and Monday, Oct. 10, 4:30 p.m. (Quartier Latin). 


FNC Festival du Nouveau Cinéma review reviews Soft Joseph Amenta
Soft (directed by Joseph Amenta)

Soft, formerly known as Pussy, follows a group of queer preteens causing a stir in the streets of Toronto before their lives are turned upside down by a disappearance. With an intimate camera and colourful cinematography, the performances of the primarily young cast err towards rambunctious realism, bringing the viewer literally down to their level; into that awkward in-between world before puberty takes its hold.

In this coming-of-age film, our three main protagonists know they’re queer, but the rest of the world isn’t ready to accept them. The main character, Julien (Matteus Lunot), has effectively been kicked out of his home and now lives with a trans sex worker, Dawn (Miyoko Anderson). Though she barely scrapes by with just enough money for rent, she offers Julien and his friends a warm home, food, love and a safe place to express themselves. When she suddenly disappears one day, Julien fears the worst. In particular, he worries that one of her Johns may have hurt her after he stole one of their wallets.

While the film’s first half is loosely structured, merely following preteens’ adventures and rebellious whims, the second half takes on a bit of a detective narrative. Though emotionally potent, the storytelling doesn’t add up in this second half, as too many threads remain unsolved. Regarding feature debuts, though, director Joseph Amenta has enormous promise, and this film has a solid and engaging vision.

Soft screens on Friday, Oct. 7, 9 p.m. (Quartier Latin) and on Friday, Oct. 14, 9:15 p.m. (Quartier Latin)

Stone Turtle

In an early scene in Stone Turtle, a young woman, Zahara (Asmara Abigail), glistening with sweat, makes an appeal on behalf of her niece: they are illegal migrants in Malaysia, and though 10 years old, her niece has never attended school. A new law, however, has taken effect, guaranteeing even illegal citizens the opportunity to go to school. During this meeting, however, Zahara is informed that the rule only applies in the capital city Kuala Lumpur. Discouraged but not defeated, Zahara returns to her home, a small and mysterious island shaped like a pregnant woman sleeping. 

On the island, a strange man appears. He claims to be a scientist and asks Zahara to show him around. He’s charming and curious; he wants to know more about the leatherback turtles nearby. Though Zahara insists that there are none on the island, we spy on her unearthing a small box filled with turtle eggs. Why is she lying? Is this man who he says he is?

In part about the struggles of migrants with some environmental activism, Stone Turtle has a cyclical structure that sometimes threatens to become an outright horror film. While the film ripples with uncertainty, the movie is, at best, unnerving and, at worst, slightly confusing. While the film comments on the desperation of people both in need and in greed, if the film has a strong message, it gets lost in the unconventional structure, which is undeniably ambitious, if not entirely successful. Though the locales are paradisical and beautiful, the film often lacks an overall atmosphere. It’s an intriguing but ultimately failed premise. 

Stone Turtle screens on Friday, Oct. 7, 6:45 p.m. (Quartier Latin) and Thursday, Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m. (Quartier Latin). 

See the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program here.

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